United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division
OPINION AND ORDER
ANCER L. HAGGERTY, District Judge.
Plaintiff Laurie Thrun seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). This court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). After reviewing the record, this court concludes that the Commissioner's decision must be AFFIRMED.
A claimant is considered "disabled" under the Social Security Act if: (1) he or she is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) "by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months, " and (2) the impairment is "of such severity that [she] is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." Hill v. Astrue, 688 F.3d 1144, 1149-50 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999)); 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining if a person is eligible for benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). In steps one through four, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant (1) has not engaged in SGA since his or her alleged disability onset date; (2) suffers from severe physical or mental impairments; (3) has severe impairments that meet or medically equal any of the listed impairments that automatically qualify as disabilities under the Social Security Act; and (4) has a residual functional capacity (RFC) that prevents the claimant from performing his or her past relevant work. Id. An RFC is the most an individual can do in a work setting despite the total limiting effects of all his or her impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1), and Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p. The claimant bears the burden of proof in the first four steps to establish his or her disability.
At the fifth step, however, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that jobs exist in a significant number in the national economy that the claimant can perform given his or her RFC, age, education, and work experience. Gomez v. Chater, 74 F.3d 967, 970 (9th Cir. 1996). If the Commissioner cannot meet this burden, the claimant is considered disabled for purposes of awarding benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f)(1), 416.920(a). On the other hand, if the Commissioner can meet its burden, the claimant is deemed to be not disabled for purposes of determining benefits eligibility. Id.
The Commissioner's decision must be affirmed if it is based on the proper legal standards and its findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1097; Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Sandgathe v. Chafer, 108 F.Jd 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).
When reviewing the decision, the court must weigh all of the evidence, whether it supports or detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098. The Commissioner, not the reviewing court, must resolve conflicts in the evidence, and the Commissioner's decision must be upheld in instances where the evidence supports either outcome. Reddick v. Chafer, 157 F.3d 715, 720-21 (9th Cir. 1998). If, however, the Commissioner did not apply the proper legal standards in weighing the evidence and making the decision, the decision must be set aside. Id at 720.
Plaintiff was born in 1964 and was forty-four years old at the time of her alleged disability onset date. She protectively filed her applications for Title XVI and Title II disability benefits on May 30, 2009 and June 15, 2009, respectively, alleging an onset date of December 7, 2008. Plaintiffs alleged disability was based on a number of physical and mental impairments, including: affective disorder, diabetes, coronary artery disease, panic disorder with agoraphobia, PTSD, and obesity. Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2012. Plaintiffs applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration.
An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) conducted a hearing on December 27, 2011. The ALJ heard testimony from plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and an impartial vocational expert (VE). The ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: "affective disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and obesity." Tr. 23, Finding 3. The ALJ determined that plaintiffs severe impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 25, Finding 4. The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the RFC to perform a range of light work but that she should avoid exposure to environmental irritants, such as smoke dust and fumes. Tr. 27, Finding 5. Additionally, the ALJ determined that plaintiff can only occasionally reach overhead with her dominant upper extremity, and that plaintiff can perform simple, repetitive tasks that involve only occasional interactions with coworkers and no interaction with the public. Id.
Based on plaintiffs RFC and testimony from the VE, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was unable to perform any of her past relevant work. Tr. 30, Finding 6. The ALJ found, however, that plaintiff could perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy including work as a scanner/microfiche preparer, seedling sorter, or hand packager. Tr. 31-32, Finding 10. Therefore, on January 13, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for administrative review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Acting Commissioner. Plaintiff subsequently initiated this action seeking judicial review.
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in his analysis of the medical opinion concerning plaintiff's panic disorder with agoraphobia and the need for supportive supervision. Second, plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to properly consider lay witness testimony favorable to plaintiff. Third, plaintiff argues that because of these failures, the ALJ ...